Micro-transactions. Just say the word and in a matter of seconds, a gamer's blood is boiling underneath their skin. Personally, my reaction to that dreaded term isn't as extreme, but it does come attached with negative thinking. Just like you don't bring up politics at Thanksgiving, you don't bring up micro-transactions around a gaming crowd. Nothing good will come of it.
The term came into the mainstream thanks to the plethora of Facebook and mobile games that players are now constantly inundated with. Farmville was free until you hit a wall with the game play, and then Zynga started asking for real-world money in exchange for virtual crops and livestock. Back then, it made some sense. After all, these were games that were completely free to play and they needed a way of making money. It made sense at the time when they started. However, this little monster had an insatiable appetite, and it was only a matter of time before it crept into console gaming.
The reason that players are even talking about this at the moment is because of Dead Space 3. Whenever a controversy hits the gaming world, you can always bet on EA being attached to it. The company's desire to have the first foot in so many doors usually leaves them in the cross-fire for bringing about a change. Nine times out of ten, it's a change that benefits everyone but the consumer.
When playing through Dead Space 3, players are in for a little surprise. At a certain point in the game, Isaac uncovers these neat little robots called Scavenger Bots. Their purpose is to be let free to collect the necessary junk for Isaac to use to construct new and better weapons/suits to survive. Let me rephrase that since that is only half of the scavenger bots' true purpose; they are really little EA vending machines on wheels.
Why does the third game in a popular, successful franchise want to demand more money from a customer who already paid? Mobile games, apparently, is the answer. In an interview with CVG DS3 producer John Calhoun says:
"There's a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They're like "I need this now, I want this now". They need instant gratification. So we included that option in order to attract those players, so that if they're 5000 Tungsten short of this upgrade, they can have it."
That's so bananas to me. The mind-set he is trying to sell is console gaming needs to ape from mobile and Facebook games to attract more customers. I can almost guarantee that a Farmville player isn't going to pick up Dead Space 3 out of the blue. If in this bizarre case they decide to start their first foray into console gaming with the third game in an ultra-violent, horror shooter franchise, I'm also going to say they aren't expecting the game-play system to carry over.
It is frightening that a major developer is pushing this mindset of accommodation to justify asking players who have already purchased a full price retail game for more money. It's not even for new content, it's for existing content already packaged in the game. In the same interview, Calhoun assures players that you won't need to pay to get what you need in the game. This is only to take advantage of the poor schleps expecting their cash to lead to exclusive content unavailable to them for just playing the game.
As a business practice, micro-transactions are pretty shady. It is greedy to ask for $60 dollars up front and yet another $10 to get an online code for the co-op mode. The co-op mode is the reason the title even exists. Still, this isn't what really bothers me about micro-transactions. What I don't understand is why EA wants gamers to pay money not to play their game. This move goes after the ignorant gamers, fresh off the mobile boat, who are unaware that patience will pay off in any game, this game especially.
When it comes to micro-transactions in console games, I'm worried about the slippery slope. Dead Space 3 is trying to get the mobile gamer into console gaming, but EA is going about it the wrong way. All I can say is that I hope this practice dies out fast. Gamers have been asked to sacrifice enough with their money. The last thing we need as consumers is to be nickeled and dimed in a fully priced product. Gaming is really struggling with the user base in this respect. As the industry prepares to head into a new console generation, the focus seems to be on figuring out new ways of limiting access. Publishers and their consumers are seemingly at each other’s throats and can't decide how to proceed. Something’s gotta give, it’s just a question if it will happen before the PS4 is out.